Posts tagged with "The Washington Post"

Biden seeks $33 billion for Ukraine, plus go-ahead to liquidate assets of Russian oligarchs

April 29, 2022

On April 28, the White House announced a proposal to allow U.S. authorities to liquidate the assets of Russian oligarchs and donate the proceeds to Ukraine—seeking what appears to be broad new legal powers to expand America’s financial war on the Kremlin amid bipartisan pressure in Congress, reports The Washington Post.

President Joe Biden will send the new plan to Congress along with a broader request for $33 billion to help the Ukrainians fight Russia’s invasion. Biden’s funding request includes:

  • $20 billion in military assistance for Ukraine,
  • $8.5 billion in economic assistance, and
  • $3 billion in humanitarian aid.

He also is seeking other funding, including $500 million to support production of U.S. crops to address the global food shock caused by the war.

The White House has not revealed the legislative text behind its proposal regarding the Russian oligarchs, but has said that the proposal “would improve” the federal government’s ability to send seized funds to Ukraine. Under current law, the United States can typically only freeze—not seize or liquidate—the assets of sanctioned individuals.

Civil liberties groups had raised concerned that prior congressional proposals ran afoul of constitutional protections by allowing federal law enforcement to circumvent judicial procedure. It was not immediately clear how the White House would seek to change the existing statute without violating those protections.

“This package of proposals will establish new authorities for the forfeiture of property linked to Russian kleptocracy, allow the government to use the proceeds to support Ukraine, and further strengthen related law enforcement tools,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

The White House said the roughly $20 billion in military aid it is seeking would help provide Ukraine and the “Eastern flank” allies with artillery, armored vehicles, anti-armor capabilities, and advanced air defense systems, among other weaponry.

The $8.5 billion in economic assistance would help Ukraine’s government pay for food, energy, and healthcare; while the humanitarian assistance is intended to buffer a growing international hunger crisis. Ukraine’s government has asked for at least $2 billion per month from the United States to meet its short-term economic needs.

The White House said its plan for liquidating Russian oligarch assets was released in close coordination with the Treasury Department, State Department, and Commerce Department.

Attorney General Merrick Garland previously told congressional lawmakers that he supports the efforts to repurpose seized Russian funds to Ukraine. But even some senior Biden administration officials had emphasized the need for caution around a potentially significant change in precedent to U.S. seizure law.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters last week that lawmakers needed to be careful when she was asked about a plan to give to the Ukrainians billions of dollars in seized Russian bank reserves.

“I would say that is very significant, and it is one that we would carefully need to think through the consequences of before undertaking it,” Yellen told reporters last week. “I wouldn’t want to do so lightly, and it’s something that I think our coalition and partners would need to feel comfortable with and be supportive of.”

The new powers sought by the White House reflect the pressure on the Western allies to intensify its economic campaign against Russia over its ongoing war against Ukraine. The Biden Administration’s proposal also includes a directive to make it a federal crime to “knowingly or intentionally possess proceeds directly obtained from corrupt dealings with the Russian government,” and the Western allies are coordinating a response to Russia’s move to cut off natural gas to two NATO countries.

The latest White House proposal also calls for improving protections against money laundering and would give the United States the authority to seize proceeds of attempts to facilitate the evasion of sanctions.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

DOJ widens January inquiry to range of pro-Trump figures

April 1, 2022

Federal prosecutors have substantially widened their January 6 investigation to examine the possible culpability of a broad range of figures involved in former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, reports The New York Times.

The investigation now encompasses the possible involvement of other government officials in Trump’s attempts to obstruct the certification of President Biden’s Electoral College victory and in the push by some Trump allies to promote slates of fake electors, they said.

Prosecutors also are asking about planning for the rallies that preceded the assault on the Capitol, including the rally on the Ellipse on January 6, 2021, just before a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.

The federal investigation initially focused largely on the rioters who had entered the Capitol—an effort that has led to more than 700 arrests. But the Justice Department appears to have moved into a new phase, seeking information about people more closely tied to Trump. This development comes amid growing political pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland to move more aggressively on the case.

A grand jury sitting in Washington is investigating the rallies that preceded the storming of the Capitol, a person familiar with the matter told the Times.

One of the subpoenas, which was reviewed by The New York Times, sought information about people “classified as VIP attendees” at Trump’s January 6 rally. It also sought information about members of the executive and legislative branches who had been involved in the “planning or execution of any rally or any attempt to obstruct, influence, impede, or delay” the certification of the 2020 election.

And it asked about the effort by Trump supporters to put forward alternate slates of electors as Trump and his allies were seeking to challenge the certification of the Electoral College outcome by Congress on January 6.

Another person briefed on the grand jury investigation said at least one person involved in the logistics of the January 6 rally had been asked to appear.

In pursuing January 6 cases, prosecutors have been assembling evidence documenting how defendants have cited statements from Trump to explain why they stormed the Capitol. And prosecutors have cited in some cases a Twitter post from Trump weeks before January 6 exhorting his followers to come to Washington—a call that motivated extremist groups, in particular.

The expanded criminal inquiry is unfolding just as a separate investigation by the House select committee on the Capitol riot is gathering evidence about Trump’s efforts to hold onto power and weighing the possibility of making a criminal referral of Trump to the Justice Department.

On Monday, March 28,  a federal judge in California, in a civil case involving the House committee, concluded that Trump likely engaged in criminal conduct, including obstructing the work of Congress and conspiring to defraud the United States.

Attorney General Garland has given little public indication of whether the Justice Department would consider prosecuting Trump, saying only that the department will follow the facts wherever they lead.

The House committee’s investigators, like the federal prosecutors, also have been interested in the planning and financing of the January 6 rally on the Ellipse and key figures involved in it. Ali Alexander, a prominent figure in the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” movement and an organizer of the rally, has been cooperating with the House committee. Alexander marched to the Capitol from the rally with Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist and Infowars host.

The House panel has also been seeking information from Amy Kremer, the chairwoman of Women for America First, which helped plan the rally.

According to the Times, the committee has also sent subpoenas seeking information to Katrina Pierson, Trump’s former national campaign spokeswoman; Kylie Jane Kremer, the daughter of Amy Kremer and the director of Women for America First; Lyndon Brentnall, the owner of a Florida-based security company who was the “on-site supervisor” for the rally; Maggie Mulvaney, a niece of the former top Trump aide Mick Mulvaney who is listed on the permit for the event; Megan Powers, an operations manager; and Tim Unes, whose company was listed as the stage manager for the gathering.

The criminal charges against rioters so far have ranged from misdemeanors to obstructing Congress in its duty to certify the Electoral College result. The Justice Department also has lodged conspiracy charges against leaders of two of the extremist groups who figured prominently in the Capitol attack, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.

Research contact: @nytimes

The inexplicable 7-hour gap in the Trump White House’s January 6 call log

March 30, 2022

Fifty years ago, the scandalous actions of an American president were shielded from public view, thanks to a suspiciously convenient 18½-minute gap in the Nixon White House’s call recordings. Today, the actions of another American president remain shielded thanks to another convenient—and inexplicable— gap in White House records, reports The Washington Post.

The Post’s Bob Woodward and CBS News’s Robert Costa state that White House documents turned over to the House January 6 select committee display a gap of 7 hours and 37 minutes between phone calls then-President Donald Trump had with allies.

The gap takes place between 11:17 a.m. and 6:54 p.m., covering virtually the entirety of the insurrection at the Capitol, which was first breached at 2:11 p.m. on January 6, 2021.

Other Trump actions are recorded for that period, including an hour-plus-long speech he gave at a rally that preceded the insurrection, and some of his movements inside the White House. But vast stretches of time are unaccounted for, The Washington Post says.

Why is that inexplicable? Because the documents show Trump rather feverishly working the phones at virtually all other times. He spoke to at least eight people that morning, in the period before the more than seven-hour gap, and he spoke to at least 11 people afterward. He also repeatedly requested calls with, and received messages from, the White House switchboard.

Perhaps most important, we know the logs are missing at least four calls — and important ones, at that — that have become public knowledge in the year since January 6.

The documents appear to exclude calls Trump had with then-Vice President Mike Pence, Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California). We already know that the latter two occurred during the gap, and the other two might well have.

Trump also requested a number of calls with people with whom calls were never recorded in the logs, including Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), who led the effort to stop Congress from finalizing Trump’s loss, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), whom an aide said

And the final call recorded before the gap—at 11:17 a.m.—lists the other party on the call as an “unidentified person.” It’s the only such call listed, and for some reason it’s featured in Trump’s daily diary but not in the call log (as the other calls are).

Below is a timeline of what is known, based on the White House documents (both the call log and the daily diary) and other key events in the public record (in italics), along with the missing and incomplete call information (in bold).

For brevity, the Post excludes most requests for calls that were soon recorded as having taken place, while keeping requests for other calls that either weren’t recorded or didn’t happen for several hours.

  • 8:34 a.m. — Kurt Olsen
  • 8:37 a.m. — Stephen K. Bannon
  • 8:45 a.m. — Rudy Giuliani
  • 8:56 a.m. — Requests White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows
  • 9:02 a.m. — Requests Vice President Mike Pence
  • 9:16 a.m. — Requests Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (a call that an aide says the senator declined)
  • 9:24 a.m. — Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)
  • 9:39 a.m. — Requests Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)
  • 9:41 a.m. — Giuliani
  • 9:52 a.m. — Stephen Miller
  • 10:32 a.m. — Nick Luna
  • 10:45 a.m. — William Bennett
  • 11:04 a.m. — Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.)
  • 11:11 a.m. — Meets with his children and advisers

 

  • 11:17 a.m. —Call with unidentified person (no end time for call recorded, not recorded at all on call log)
  • Late morning— Pence (during which Trump reportedly tells him: “Mike, you can do this. I’m counting on you to do it. If you don’t do it, I picked the wrong man four years ago.” He adds, according to Woodward and Costa, “You’re going to wimp out!”)
  • 11:38 a.m. — Leaves for “Stop the Steal” rally
  • 12 p.m.-1:17 p.m. — Speech at “Stop the Steal” rally
  • 1:19 p.m. — Returns to White House
  • 1:21 p.m. — Meets with valet
  • 2:11 p.m. — Capitol is breached
  • 2:13 p.m. — Pence escorted from House chamber
  • ??? — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). (McCarthy has said he was “the first person to contact [Trump] when the riot was going on.” Trump reportedly told McCarthy, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”)
  • 2:24 p.m. — Trump tweets attacking Pence
  • 2:26 p.m. — Mistakenly calls Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) seeking Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). Lee hands phone to Tuberville.
  • ??? — At least one more call with Jordan. (Jordan has confirmed he spoke with Trump multiple timesthat day. Politico reported this call took place early in the insurrection and featured Jordan and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida asking Trump to call off his supporters.)

 

  • 4:03 p.m.-4:07 p.m. — Records message to supporters in Rose Garden

 

  • 6:54 p.m. — Requests Dan Scavino
  • 7:01 p.m. — Pat Cipollone
  • 7:08 p.m. — Scavino
  • 7:16 p.m. — Informed of pending calls from five people: Olsen, Mark Martin, Cleta Mitchell, Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) and Hawley. Trump asks for calls to Olsen, Martin, and Mitchell.
  • 7:17 p.m. — Olsen
  • 7:30 p.m. — Mark Martin
  • 7:40 p.m. — Olsen
  • 7:53 p.m. — Mitchell
  • 8:39 p.m. — Giuliani
  • 9:23 a.m. — Jason Miller
  • 9:42 p.m. — Kayleigh McEnany
  • 9:55 p.m. — Scavino
  • 10:11 p.m. — Meadows
  • 10:19 p.m. — Bannon
  • 10:50 p.m. — Eric Herschmann
  • 11:08 p.m. — Fox News host Sean Hannity
  • 11:23 p.m. — John McEntee

The White House isn’t the only entity to have slow-rolled its disclosure of Trump’s calls with Jordan; so did Jordan, who implausibly claimed he didn’t remember how often he spoke to Trump or when. His office later confirmed there were multiple calls between the two that day, but only one is recorded by the White House.

McCarthy also threatened phone and tech companies that supplied records to the Jan. 6 committee with retribution if Republicans retake the House.

There is no question that information is missing. The question is how much and why. Were people caught up in the moment and not recording things after the insurrection was underway? That seems possible, but certainly these times would seem to call for extra care in recording Trump’s actions.

Perhaps relevant to that question is the call at 11:17 a.m. Not only is the other party not identified (unlike the other calls), but it also features no end time (unlike the other calls) and doesn’t appear in the call log (unlike the other calls). You could certainly make an argument, then, that the gap stretches to nearly eight hours, between Trump’s calls with Perdue at 11:04 a.m. and his request for Scavino at 6:54 p.m.

But also consider this, the Post says: That call would have been listed on the next page of records, if there were such a record. The gap somehow neatly breaks down with the last recorded call—with Perdue at 11:04 a.m.—at the end of one page and the beginning of the next one—the request for Scavino at 6:54 p.m.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

How Biden sparked a global uproar with nine ad-libbed words about Putin

March 29, 2022

During his presidential campaign, President Biden often reminded his audience about the heavy weight that the words of a president can carry. “The words of a president matter,” he said more than once. “They can move markets. They can send our brave men and women to war. They can bring peace.”

They can also, as Biden discovered on March 26, spark a global uproar in the middle of a war, reports The Washington Post.

With nine ad-libbed words at the end of a 27-minute speech, Biden created an unwanted distraction to his otherwise forceful remarks by calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be pushed out of office.

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said.

It was a remarkable statement that would reverse stated U.S. policy–directly countering claims from senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who have insisted regime change is not on the table.

It went further than even U.S. presidents during the Cold War, and immediately reverberated around the world as world leaders, diplomats, and foreign policy experts sought to determine what Biden said, what it meant—and, if he didn’t mean it, why he said it.

Shortly after the speech, a White House official sought to clarify the comments.

“The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia or regime change,” the official said.

Biden’s line was not planned and came as a surprise to U.S. officials, according to a person familiar with the speech who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive situation. In the immediate aftermath of the remark, reporters rushed to find Biden aides and seek clarity on the president seemingly supporting a regime change in Russia.

But Biden aides demurred, refusing to comment as they scrambled to craft a response.

White House officials were adamant the remark was not a sign of a policy change, but they did concede it was just the latest example of Biden’s penchant for stumbling off message. And like many of his unintended comments, they came at the end of his speech as he ad-libbed and veered from the carefully crafted text on the teleprompter.

“The speech was quite remarkable,” said Aaron David Miller, a veteran diplomat and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “This is one of those speeches where the one-liner in many ways drowns out the intent of the speech. Because that’s exactly what people are focusing on.”

Miller said that had the White House not immediately clarified, the comment would have led to a significant shift in policy and signaled to Putin that the United States would attempt to drive him out of office. It is unclear what the full impact of the comment may be in coming days.

“I’m risk averse by nature, especially with a guy who has nuclear weapons,” he said. “But will it have operational consequences? I don’t know.”

It likely signals to Putin what he already suspected about Biden’s true feelings, and it almost certainly will be used as part of Russia’s propaganda.

“I guess you can call this a gaffe from the heart,” Miller said. “If Biden could close his eyes tomorrow and have 10 wishes, one would be there’s a leadership change in Russia.”

But the comment also seemed to provide a window into Biden’s current thinking, and some of the mind-set that the Administration has with regard to Putin.

“What it tells me, and worries me, is that the top team is not thinking about plausible war termination,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of the book The Art of War in an Age of Peace: U.S. Grand Strategy and Resolute Restraint.

“If they were, Biden’s head wouldn’t be in a place where he’s saying, ‘Putin must go.’ The only way to get to war termination is to negotiate with this guy,” O’Hanlon said.

“When you say this guy must go you’ve essentially declared you’re not going to do business with him,” he added. “However appealing at an emotional level, it’s not going to happen. We can’t control it, and it probably won’t take place anytime soon.”

Over the past few weeks, Biden’s rhetoric on Putin—a man he once recounted telling to his face, “I don’t think you have a soul”—has become increasingly pointed. He has called him a “butcher,” “pure thug,” and a “murderous dictator.” So saying that he should be removed from power could viewed as the logical next step.

It also is in line with Biden at times articulating policy before his aides are ready. Last week, he called Putin a “war criminal,” which White House aides quickly said was simply him “speaking from the heart.” But within a few days, U.S. policy changed as Blinken also called Putin a war criminal and released a formal assessment on war crimes committed by Russia.

Biden’s comment was particularly striking because his Administration has taken pains to avoid even implying that regime change is a goal of the Western response to Russia’s aggression.

Kremlin spokesman Demitry Peskov told state news agencies, “That’s not for Biden to decide. The president of Russia is elected by Russians.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Justice Thomas’ wife Ginni and Mark Meadows swapped 29 deranged texts after Trump’s loss

March 28, 2022

In the weeks after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, outgoing White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’ phone blew up with texts from Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who urged him over and over again to keep trying to overturn the results, reports The Daily Beast.

“Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!” she texted, going on to call Biden’s win “the greatest Heist of our History.” The trove of texts, 29 in all, were among 2,320 texts Meadows provided to the House select panel probing the Capitol riot.

All 29 texts were obtained by CBS News and The Washington Post on Thursday, March 24.

  “This is a fight of good versus evil,” Meadows wrote to Thomas in a message. “Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs… The fight continues.”

In another, Thomas cited a deranged belief that the “Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators” were being arrested and “will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition.”

Panel members have said the messages could be just a fraction of the communications between Meadows, who is not cooperating with the panel, and Thomas.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Yokesters: The Dutch vow to egg Jeff Bezos’ yacht if a bridge is dismantled to let it pass through

February 11, 2022

It’s not exactly smooth sailing these days in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam, where locals are voicing their objection to a plan that would temporarily dismantle an historic bridge to enable the passage of a mega-yacht reportedly owned by former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, reports NPR.

In fact, some already are making plans—albeit, in jest—for what they will do if the project comes to fruition: Throw eggs at the yacht as it traverses the water under the Koningshaven Bridge, known locally as “De Hef.”

Some 13,000 people are “interested” and nearly 4,000 have said they will attendFacebook event titled “Throwing eggs at superyacht Jeff Bezos,” which has been shared more than 1,000 times in the week since its creation.

“Calling all Rotterdammers, take a box of rotten eggs with you and let’s throw them en masse at Jeff’s superyacht when it sails through the Hef in Rotterdam,” wrote organizer Pablo Strörmann.

He told the NL Times that the protest started as a joke among friends and has quickly gotten “way out of hand.” (The English-language news site also notes that this isn’t Strörmann’s first campaign to go viral.)

The news of De Hef’s potential disassembly, however brief, has clearly struck a chord with both locals and international observers.

It all started last week when Dutch broadcaster Rijnmond reported that the city appeared willing to grant a request to dismantle the centuries-old steel bridge so that Bezos’ yacht could pass through.

De Hef was built in 1927 as a railway bridge, with a midsection that can be lifted to allow ship traffic to pass underneath, according to The Washington Post. It was replaced by a tunnel and decommissioned in 1994–but was saved from demolition by public protests and later declared a national monument.

The yacht’s three masts apparently would be too high for the bridge’s roughly 130-foot clearance. The yacht in question was reportedly commissioned by Bezos and currently is being built at the Oceanco shipyard in The Netherlands, according to Boat International. It will comprise three masts with aluminum and steel construction and will measure more than 415 feet in length.

Once delivered, not only will she become the world’s largest sailing yacht, but she also will hold the title for the largest superyacht ever built in the Netherlands.

The waterway where the bridge sits is the only way the ship can get from the shipyard in Alblasserdam to the open seas, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. So Oceanco asked Rotterdam officials to temporarily remove the middle section of the bridge.

City spokesperson Netty Kros told the CBC that “the applicant” would cover the costs of the project but did not clarify whether that refers to the yacht’s owner, the shipbuilder or both.

Bloomberg reports that Oceanco will foot the bill. NPR has reached out to Amazon and Oceanco to confirm these details.

The city appeared to agree to the arrangement last week, with municipal project leader Marcel Walravens telling Rijnmond that the project would proceed for logistical and economic reasons. He said an exact plan was being developed but estimated it would take about a week to prepare and another week to “put everything back in place.”

Research contact: @NPR

Trump’s White House toilet was ‘repeatedly clogged’ by torn wads of wet printed paper

Febraury 11, 2022

It’s no surprise, with his notorious diet of Big Macs and Diet Coke, that Donald Trump’s toilet is often the worse for wear. However, according to an upcoming book from  The New York Times  reporter and Trump expert Maggie Haberman, it’s not the fast food that’s to blame, reports The Daily Beast.

In an excerpt from Haberman’s new book, Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America (Penguin Press, to be released October 4)—first reported by Axios on Thursday morning, February 9—the author claims that White House staff would often find Trump’s toilet clogged up with shredded documents.

Indeed, staffers believed that the papers were destroyed and flushed by the president himself. Haberman reports that workmen had to fix the toilet on more than one occasion.

She appeared on CNN’s New Day to discuss the revelation later on Thursday morning. Maggie, we start with the toilet,” host Brianna Keilar said to open the interview, in a sentence that has perhaps never before, and will likely never again, be heard on a national broadcast news.

As I was reporting out this book, I learned that staff in the White House residence would periodically find the toilet clogged,” said Haberman. “The engineer would have to come and fix it, and what the engineer would find would be wads of, you know, clumped up printed wet paper.”

The reporter went on to clarify: “[This was] not toilet paper. This was either notes or some other piece of paper that they believe he had thrown down the toilet. What it could be, Brianna, it could be anybody’s guess. It could be Post-Its, it could be notes he wrote to himself, it could be other things, we don’t know. But it certainly does add… another dimension to what we know about how he handled material in the White House.”

CNN’s John Berman clearly wanted to know more. He went on to ask Haberman if she knows whether the clogging happened more than once, and if we know for sure if it was Trump’s toilet that had been blocked.

“They would periodically find this to be the case,” Haberman explained. “The exact number, John, I’m not certain of, but it was not just once… It was in the pipes… it was in the pipes. This was his bathroom.”

Trump, as he so often does, dismissed the claims as “fake” news.In a statement on Thursday morning, the twice-impeached-former-president said: “Also, another fake story, that I flushed papers and documents down a White House toilet, is categorically untrue and simply made up by a reporter in order to get publicity for a mostly fictitious book.”

Trump’s mishandling of official documents has come under closer scrutiny since 15 boxes of papers were taken away from Mar-a-Lago last month. The boxes were previously reported to have contained Kim Jong Un’s “love letters” to Trump, as well as the handover note left for the incoming president when Barack Obama left the White House in 2017.

However, reports this week have suggested that the documents swiped from the White House by Trump’s team were perhaps even more sensitive than previously realized. Late Wednesday, The New York Times reported that National Archives officials found what they believed to be “classified information” when searching through the seized boxes.

Earlier Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the National Archives had gone so far as to ask the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s handling of the documents taken from Mar-a-Lago.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

National Archives had to retrieve Trump White House records from Mar-a-Lago

Feebraury 8, 2022

Former President Donald Trump improperly removed multiple boxes from the White House, which were retrieved by the National Archives and Records Administration last month from his Mar-a-Lago residence because they contained documents and other items that should have been turned over to the agency, according to three people familiar with the visit.

Indeed, The Washington Post reports, the recovery of the boxes from Trump’s Florida resort raises new concerns about his adherence to the Presidential Records Act—which requires the preservation of memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to a president’s official duties.

Trump advisers deny any nefarious intent and say that the boxes contained mementos, gifts, letters from world leaders and other correspondence. The items included correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which Trump once described as “love letters,” as well as a letter left for his successor by President Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the contents.

Discussions between the Archives and the former president’s lawyers that began last year resulted in the transfer of the records in January, according to one person familiar with the conversations. Another person familiar with the materials said Trump advisers discussed what had to be returned in December. People familiar with the transfer, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal details.

The Archives declined to comment. A spokesperson for the former president did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the Post, the Archives has struggled to cope with a president who flouted document retention requirements and frequently ripped up official documents, leaving hundreds of pages taped back together—or some that arrived at the Archives still in pieces. Some damaged documents were among those turned over to the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

“The only way that a president can really be held accountable long term is to preserve a record about who said what, who did what, what policies were encouraged or adopted, and that is such an important part of the long-term scope of accountability—beyond just elections and campaigns,” presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky said.

From a national security perspective, Chervinsky added, if records and documents are not disclosed, “that could pose a real concern if the next administration is flying blind without that information.”

The recovery of documents from Trump’s Florida estate is just the latest example of what records personnel described as chronic difficulties in preserving records during the Trump era—the most challenging since Richard Nixon sought to block disclosure of official records, including White House tapes.

All recent administrations have had some Presidential Records Act violations, most often involving the use of unofficial email and telephone accounts. White House documents from multiple administrations also have been retrieved by the Archives after a president has left office.

But personnel familiar with recent administrations said the Trump era stands apart in the scale of the records retrieved from Mar-a-Lago. One person familiar with the transfer characterized it as “out of the ordinary …. NARA has never had that kind of volume transfer after the fact like this.”

“Things that are national security-sensitive, or very clearly government documents, should have been a part of a first sweep—so the fact that it’s been this long doesn’t reflect well on [Trump],” said a lawyer who worked in the White House Counsel’s Office under Obama. “Why has it taken for a year for these boxes to get there? And are there more boxes?”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Former AG Bill Barr has spoken to January 6 Committee, chairman says

January 25, 2022

The chair of the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol said on Sunday, January 23, that former Attorney General Bill Barr  already has spoken with investigators—a major revelation that at least some former Trump Administration officials are cooperating with the probe into the deadly insurrection, reports HuffPost.

“To be honest with you, we’ve had conversations with the former attorney general already,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) said on CBS-TV’s’ Face the Nation. “We’ve talked to Department of Defense individuals. We are concerned that our military was part of this big lie on promoting that the election was false.”

Thompson’s remarks came amid questioning over recent reports that Trump was presented with a draft executive order that would have directed the Pentagon to seize voting machines in battleground states after he lost the 2020 election. Politico first reported last week that the document is among several records Trump’s attorneys were trying to shield from January 6 investigators.

The Supreme Court ruled this month, however, that the National Archives should turn the documents over, and the select committee said just hours later that it had already begun to receive the records.

Thompson told CBS News host Margaret Brennan that the plan was only a draft and never became operational—but said that lawmakers remained concerned about the reports and would let the public know if it found evidence of any “individual who [were] participating in trying to stop the election.”

“If you are using the military to potentially seize voting machines, even though it’s a discussion, the public needs to know. We’ve never had that before,” Thompson said Sunday.

It’s unclear what Barr discussed with the panel, or if he spoke about the draft order on voting machines, but the fact that he spoke with lawmakers is significant. Several top Trump officials have refused to do so, even as the select committee has ramped up its issuance of subpoenas.

The Washington Post reported that the committee’s conversations with Barr were “informal,” citing a committee staffer familiar with the discussions. The outlet added that lawmakers also have already interviewed Barr’s successor, Jeffrey Rosen.

Barr was closely allied with Trump throughout his tenure at the Justice Department, but he resigned in December 2020 after he refused to back up the then-president’s false claims about election fraud.

Research contact: @HuffPost

WaPo offers five takeaways from Biden’s forceful January 6 takedown of Trump

January 10, 2022

About a month after the January 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol insurrection and with impeachment suddenly in the rearview, President Joe Biden signaled he was “tired” of talking about Donald Trump. A month later, he responded to a question about the former president by sarcastically saying he missed “my predecessor.”

Indeed, Biden largely has avoided mentioning Trump in the following months, reports The Washington Post.

However, on the anniversary of the January 6 Capitol riot on Thursday, Biden made a huge exception. He delivered a muscular speech aimed at repudiating the former president, whose hold on the Republican Party has proved as strong as ever; according to the Post, as well as the allies who fomented and excused the Capitol riot.

Below are the Post’s takeaways from Biden’s speech.

The Trump focus

Biden’s intention to make his speech not just about the rioters, but also about Trump, was evident from the first minute of his brief speech and continued throughout. After praising those who withstood the attack and marking the somber occasion, Biden almost immediately linked the attack to Trump—and did so repeatedly, with a palpable anger in his voice.

“For the first time in our history, the president had not just lost an election; he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Biden said. “But they failed. They failed.”

Biden added later: “He has done what no president in American history—the history of this country—has ever, ever done: He refused to accept the results of an election and the will of the American people.”

Then Biden went after Trump’s delayed response.

“What did we not see?” Biden said. “We didn’t see a former president who had just rallied the mob to attack, sitting in the private dining room off the Oval Office in the White House, watching it all on television and doing nothing for hours as police were assaulted, lives at risk, the nation’s capital under siege.”

Not just targeting—but goading Trump

Much of Biden’s speech seemed aimed at not just criticizing but also goading Trump. He referred to Trump’s “bruised ego” over losing the 2020 election.

 He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interest as more important than his country’s interest and America’s interest, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution,” Biden said.

Biden also referenced the 81 million people who voted for him—a seeming reference to Trump and his allies’ regular invocations of the 74 million people who voted for Trump, and the idea that not further scrutinizing Trump’s baseless voter-fraud claims was tantamount to disregarding those voters.

Biden also pointed to those who might otherwise be allies who clearly didn’t back up Trump’s claims. “He can’t accept he lost, even though that’s what 93 United States senators, his own attorney general, his own vice president, governors and state officials in every battleground state—have all said he lost,” Biden said. “That’s what 81 million of you did, as you voted for a new way forward.”

Biden punctuated it all toward the end of his speech by labeling Trump what Trump fears perhaps most of all—a loser. “He was just looking for an excuse, a pretext to cover for the truth: that he’s not just a former president; he’s a defeated former president,” Biden said, emphasizing “defeated” and then repeating it—“defeated by a margin of over 7 million of your votes in a full and free and fair election.”

A recognition that being passive doesn’t work

Biden’s speech might have been for a special occasion, but it also seemed to mark a recognition that Trump is going nowhere, and one can’t pretend otherwise.

At the same time, it echoed previous rebukes of Trump, in that Biden avoided saying his name. There was a word curiously missing from Biden’s remarks: “Trump.” [Biden explained afterwards that he avoided politicizing the speech.]

Throughout the speech, Biden merely cited the “former president”—at least 16 times in a little over ten minutes—as if speaking his name was tantamount to legitimizing him, or that something would happen a la saying “Voldemort.”

The undersold rebuke

According to the Post, toward the end, Biden referred to something that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention: the implicit GOP idea that the presidential election was somehow stolen, but not other races.

In fact, a few days before January 6, this comparison was pushed by none other than Republican Representative Chip Roy (Texas), who had been Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) former chief of staff. If the election results were suspect, Roy argued, why wouldn’t his fellow Republicans have objected to the seating of members who were elected on the same ballots? So Roy forced a vote, and all but two Republicans voted to seat the members.

What happens now

The question in the aftermath of Biden’s speech is what it means. Was this just about reminding people of an assault on democracy—one day only—or was it about spurring further action?

Democrats have pushed for revamping the nation’s voting laws, citing Republican efforts to rewrite them in the states, but that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Democrats have also shunned GOP leaders’ suggestions that the two sides could meet in the middle, by reviewing the Electoral Count Act that Trump sought to exploit January 6. Democrats have suggested this is a wholly insufficient step.

An alternate political explanation is that Biden understands his agenda probably isn’t going anywhere. That argument suggests that voters must be reminded of what happened in 2020 ahead of the 2022 election—when Democrats’ majorities are severely imperiled—and perhaps ahead of a potential 2024 rematch with Trump (or another Democrat running against Trump).

When the calendar turns to an election year, after all, the Post notes, legislation tends to grind to a halt, and those concerns take precedence. Biden’s goading of Trump certainly doesn’t discount this theory.

Either way, though, it’s a significant entry in the long-standing fight over democracy. And it was the most significant entry on that front from Biden to date.

Research contact: @washingtonpost